Smartphones have overtaken PC shipments in 2011, with Apple the leading smartphone seller last year due to the fourth quarter performance of the iPhone 4S.
New research from Canalys showed there were 487.7 million smartphones shipped last year, up 62.7% on 2010. The number of PCs shipped, including netbooks, notebooks and desktops, was 414.6 million, up 14.8% on the previous year. Smartphones had a strong fourth quarter with 158.5 million shipped, up 56.6% on the same period in 2010. This also outstripped PC shipments, with only 120.2 million sold during that quarter.
However, the analysts were cautious about smartphone growth continuing to flourish into 2012. It predicted manufacturers will exercise greater cost control and discpline, and focus more on profitability.
Canalys said Apple's fourth quarter performance, when it shipped 37 million iPhones, smashed the record of Nokia's 28.3 million smartphones shipped during Q4 2010. It said Apple's 2011 performance was down to pent-up demand for the iPhone 4S but also high demand for the 'aggressively priced' iPhone 4 and 3GS models.
Samsung more than trebled the number of smartphones shipped last year, from 24.9 million in 2010 to 91.9 million last year. The researchers said: 'Samsung continued to spend big on marketing activities, and its strong product portfolio – particularly the Android-based Galaxy S II – performed well.'
The report said there was cause for optimism over Nokia's long-term plans, despite it posting poor financial results for last year. It shipped 77.3 million smartphones during last year. Canalys' researchers said its fourth quarter performance, when it shipped 19.6 million smartphones, down 31% from its 2010 record but up 17% on the previous quarter, was encouraging.
Senior analyst Tim Shepherd said: 'Nokia must continue to build out its Lumia portfolio with devices tailored to address all price points and all the markets in which it aims to compete. It must hasten its transition from Symbian to Windows Phone around the world and, with Microsoft, promote and generate excitement for the platform and new products.'
Researchers claimed reports of Research in Motion's demise had been 'overplayed' but added the manufacturer needs to move quickly to bring its BlackBerry 10 devices to market. Principal analyst Pete Cunningham said: 'There is no denying that RIM has had a tough year. But when you consider that it is transitioning to a new platform it has done well to increase volume while remaining profitable; the latter point being something that many other vendors struggle with.'
The report said Android accounted for 52% of global shipments in Q4 2011, with iOS at 23% and Symbian on 12%. Android also led the way for 2011, accounting for 49% of all devices shipped. Second was iOS with a 19% share followed by Symbian with 16%.
Canalys VP and principal analyst Chris Jones said: 'Smartphone shipments overtaking those of client PCs should be seen as a significant milestone. In the space of a few years, smartphones have grown from being a niche product segment at the high-end of the mobile phone market to becoming a truly mass market proposition. The greater availability of smartphones at lower price points has helped tremendously, but there has been a driving trend of increasing consumer appetite for internet browsing, content consumption and engaging with apps and services on mobile devices.'